The recent “sequestration” of US government funding has led to some emergency travel funding cuts at NASA. For while the US Congress is intent on continuing the funding of key programmes such as the Space Launch System (SLS) or that developing a commercial crew launch capability, and passing emergency legislation to that effect, the same cannot be said for other funding at NASA. As a result, NASA Administrator, Major-General Charles Bolden has sent out an edict noting that only very necessary travel would be allowed for NASA’s managers, scientists and engineers and those of their contractors.
For some this is a popular move. There has long been antipathy amongst US taxpayers (and similarly in those of other nations) to funding government employees’ travel for what looked very much like “jollies” i.e.business trips to conferences which includes a large element of fun at some rather nice venues and cities. Nevertheless, critics of the travel ban note that in not attending conferences, NASA and the United States of America itself, misses out on the benefits of new technological advances, sales opportunities and diplomatic advantages that such human interactions and exchanges bring.
Travel bans are not new at NASA. At the International Astronautical Congress in Naples last year, some of NASA’s surprisingly small contingent were embarrased to note that they were presenting papers for colleagues who had been prevented from travelling by NASA’s attendee limits which had, in turn, been imposed on NASA by the US Congress.
Nevertheless, this latest edict goes further. To the probable chagrin of some conference organisers keen to promote their own events’ importance, the pronouncement also lists out those conferences and symposia that apparently do not ”make the cut” in regards to being important enough to warrant NASA attendance. This list surprisingly includes the upcoming National Space Symposium in Colorado, to which Bolden has now banned himself and his Deputy Lori Garver from going.
Other “NASA-less conferences” will include the American Astronautical Society’s Robert H. Goddard Memorial Symposium, the IAF Spring Meeting, the Rotary International Conference;the European Geosciences Union General Assembly 2013, the Sixth European Conference on Space Debris, and the IAASS Conference.
Until a formal announcement on their acceptability is released, other foreign space conferences will require special permission to be received for attendance.
The full travel edict as published by spaceref.com is here.
Update: Those going to the Lunar and Planetary Science Conference in March have permission if they are being funded via a NASA Grant.